Richard Grossman passed away on Tuesday, November 22. The movement we know today to end never-intended constitutional rights for corporations as a step toward real self-governance was birthed, grew and developed to a great extent by this remarkable, complex human being with a deep passion and love for nature, humanity and justice. He influenced and inspired thousands directly, an incalculable number more indirectly.
Richard and Ward Morehouse started the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD) in 1994, a combined think tank and breeding ground for activist experimentation to challenge corporate rule.
His work in this field originated with the publication of Taking Care of Business: Citizenship and the Charter of Incorporation, which he co-authored with Frank Adams in 1993.
Richard reveled in reading, thinking, writing and discussing on what had been for more than a century buried history and analysis on how corporations (creations of the state) came to acquire power and rights that were presented by the culture as inevitable and irreversible. POCLAD semi-annual retreats among the dozen collective “principles” were serious extended weekends in “grappling” and “rethinking” the relationship between people and our own legal creations — conveying that the ultimate inhibitor to self-governance weren’t corporations but us — what we’ve come to accept and what we’re willing to do. He dug deep in history, law and scholars that most people in the present had never heard of and/or who seemed quaint or arcane.
Richard was rigorous and demanded the same from everyone who took ending corporate rights seriously. He challenged as well as supported. He demanded as well as suggested. He knocked our ideas and conceptions down as well as worked collaboratively to build up others. He was uncompromising on core concepts but engaged in genuine give and take that helped him evolve from primarily advocating revoking individual corporate charters, to ending corporate constitutional rights (personhood) at the national level, to asserting democratic “right to decide” control over corporations through municipal ordinances, to criminalizing chartered incorporated business entities. You didn’t always agree with Richard but you were always mentally stretched and challenged to defend your unconsciously accepted doctrines.
I first ran into Richard when he and fellow “POCLADista” Jane Anne Morris came to Ohio to lead a weekend “Rethinking Corporations, Rethinking Democracy” in 1995 — one of scores of intentional in-depth retreats to unlearn our “myths and lore” regarding governance that he helped facilitate. It was a personal awakening. Though I had gone to what was considered a pretty radical college (Oberlin) and grew up with a father who was involved in the formation of the labor movement (United Rubber Workers in Akron), I had learned nothing in either venue about what Richard and Jane Anne had “unearthed.”
At the end of the “Rethink,” Richard challenged us to do our own “unearthing,” to dig into Ohio history and law — since corporations historically received their charter from states. The result was Citizens Over Corporations, our booklet which provided “A Brief History of Democracy in Ohio and Challenges to Organizing in the Future” (the subtitle, per Richard’s suggestion). He was an invaluable asset in the writing, framing and tone. The booklet led to our documentary, CorpOrNation, the Story of Citizens and Corporations in Ohio. As Richard said time and again, the issue isn’t about corporations. It’s about democracy. It’s about us. I was forever in awe once I became involved with POCLAD by his overall intellect, discernment and focus.
On a very personal note, after my wife suddenly passed away in 2000, Richard’s hand written letter and subsequent notes, Buddhist calendar and phone calls were among the most cherished communications I received from anyone — always inquiring about my welfare and my daughter’s. Beneath his exterior crustiness was a deeply caring soul.
Richard was a planter. All his seeds did not sprout in quite the democratic ways he completely approved. Yet time will tell how far and deep the current anti corporate personhood movement extends. Transcending it to envelop real self-governance with compassion for all living things is where I believe Richard would want it to travel.
So should we. For the real barriers to this are not chartered incorporated business entities. They’re us.